The best news we can take from the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress is on the cusp of approving is that moderate Republicans and Democrats are working together to keep government functioning. This bill will avoid any interruption of services. And it includes a few good changes, and no immediately disastrous ones.
The worst news is why this budget bill will pass: It provides enough goodies to entice members of both parties, and absolutely no fiscal discipline. The kids are running the candy store, voting to gobble more of everything but will pay for it all some other day.
This spending bill will fund the federal government for six months, which seems like eons considering that a failed effort would have been the third shutdown in eight weeks. But it creates huge, unpaid-for spending increases. Defense spending will rise $160 billion over two years, and domestic spending $128 billion. These hikes, along with the cost of the tax cuts that went into effect this year, set the stage to increase the deficit by about $3 trillion over the next decade.
That’s $9,000 per American.
The deal gives President Donald Trump more money for immigration enforcement and $1.6 billion for his southern border wall, a far cry from the $25 billion he wants. That won’t get him far on the wall he promised Mexico will pay for, which is a good thing. Democrats decided not to take Trump’s offer to allow Dreamers, young people brought here illegally as children, to stay for three more years. The price of what he wanted in return was too high, such as ending immigration paths for the families of citizens and legal residents. The challenges to the administration’s attempts to deport Dreamers are winding through the courts, and that’s a better forum now for the issue.
Another appealing feature of this bill is a small but significant move toward smart policy on gun ownership. As the Florida high school students who survived last month’s massacre get ready to lead a protest on Saturday in Washington, Congress suddenly decided to increase enforcement of federal background check laws while rejecting a dangerous proposal for 50-state reciprocity on concealed-carry permits. The spending language clears the way for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of gun violence. This is crucial to treating gun violence like the public-health crisis it is. And it increases money for opioid addiction, although not enough.
There is a lot more money for needed local infrastructure projects. And the bill makes accessible some funding for furthering the Gateway project, a $30 billion plan to add a new rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York, while not explicitly funding this project Trump inexplicably hates.
In short, this is a type of spending plan, like that candy binge, that the nation can live with now, but not thrive on in the long run.
The conservative fiscal hawks who oppose this deal have a point, but it’s dulled by the fact that most of them supported huge tax cuts. The most liberal Democrats have a point, too, particularly about the Dreamers, but they’ll have to win some elections to triumph in those battles.
So we lurch forward, work for better, be glad it is not worse.
— The editorial board